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It can be hard to breathe after some serious illnesses, such as pneumonia or heart failure, or an attack of COPD or another lung disease. You may still need extra oxygen after you leave the hospital. And you may go home with a prescription for supplemental (extra) oxygen therapy.

Supplemental oxygen therapy uses a tank or a machine to give you extra oxygen. This helps oxygen get to your lungs and heart, and other parts of your body. The extra oxygen can make you stronger and more alert. It can help prevent death in people with COPD (severe chronic obstructive pulmonary dis­ease) who have low oxygen levels much of the time.

How do you know if you need home oxygen?

Normal blood oxygen levels are 95 percent and above. Home oxygen therapy is helpful when your level is 88 percent or less.

Some people only need extra oxygen at certain times. For example, your doctor may tell you to use oxygen therapy when you exercise or sleep, or if your blood oxygen is 88 percent or less.

If you’ve started home oxygen, you should never reduce or stop it on your own. It is important to talk with your doctor if you think your oxygen therapy needs to change. There are serious health risks, including strain on your heart and lungs, if you stop using extra oxygen when you need it.

Is home oxygen therapy safe?

Yes. Oxygen is a safe gas as long as it is used properly. Contrary to what most people believe, oxygen will not explode. Oxygen does, however, support combustion. Therefore, any material that is already burning will burn much faster and hotter in an oxygen-enriched atmosphere. It is very important to follow the precautions listed below so that you and your family are safe when you are using your oxygen.

Oxygen use precautions

  1. Stay at least six feet away from any open flame or heat source (candles, gas stove, etc.) when you are using your oxygen system. If you must cook while using oxygen, make sure your tubing will not touch the gas flame or electric burner. (Tuck the tubing in your shirt or position it behind you.)

  2. Do not store your oxygen system near any heat sources or open flames.

  3. Do not smoke nor allow others to smoke in the same room as your oxygen system. Cigarette smoking is very dangerous. Sparks from a lighted cigarette could cause facial burns.

  4. Post “No Smoking” signs in the room where your oxygen is kept.

  5. Do not change the oxygen flow rate on your own. This can lead to serious side-effects. If you feel you are not getting enough oxygen, contact your physician and notify your home care supplier.

  6. Never use more than 50 feet of oxygen tubing. This can dilute the concentration of oxygen that you are receiving.

  7. Do not expose your oxygen equipment to electrical appliances (such as electric razors, hair dryers, electric blankets, etc.).

  8. Be sure that all electrical equipment in the area near the oxygen is properly grounded.

  9. Be sure to have a functioning smoke detector and fire extinguisher in your home at all times.

  10. Keep the oxygen system away from aerosol cans or sprays, including air fresheners or hair spray. These products are very flammable.

  11. Keep the oxygen system clean and dust-free. The person who delivers your oxygen will show you how to do this.

  12. Do not use cleaning products or other products containing grease or oils, petroleum jelly, alcohol, or flammable liquids on or near your oxygen system. These substances cause oxygen to be flammable.

  13. Keep the oxygen system in a place where it won’t get knocked over.

  14. Always store your oxygen equipment in a well-ventilated area.

  15. An oxygen cylinder must be secured at all times. Put it in a cart or lay it down flat.

  16. Do not carry liquid oxygen in a backpack or other enclosed space. Carrying cases, shoulder or hand bags, shoulder straps, and backpack oxygen units are available that provide proper ventilation for the unit to ensure safety.

  17. Never use extension cords with any medical equipment.

  18. Secure loose cords and extra tubing so you don’t trip on them when using your oxygen system.

  19. Secure floor mats and throw rugs so that you will not trip or fall when using your oxygen system.

  20. Be sure doorways, hallways, and rooms can accommodate you if you have a portable oxygen system.

  21. Notify your electric company if you are using an oxygen concentrator system so they can make your house a priority during a power outage.

  22. Oxygen is a drug and must be used as your doctor ordered. Too much or too little can be harmful.

  23. Take precautions to avoid skin contact when filling your portable liquid oxygen tank, as frost buildup could cause injury.

  24. Always have backup tanks available, and know how to use them.

Myths and Truths about oxygen

Myth: Oxygen is addictive.
Truth: Oxygen is NOT addictive.

Myth: If I have a stuffy nose, I shouldn’t bother using my nasal cannula.
Truth: Oxygen can still be delivered even if you have a stuffy nose.

Myth: Once you start using oxygen, you’ll need it for the rest of your life.
Truth: Many people have discontinued oxygen use after other appropriate treatments have taken effect. This can take time, though.

Myth: People who need oxygen must be confined to their homes and cannot do anything, including travel.
Truth: People who use oxygen can lead a normal life. There are several types of portable oxygen systems available that allow people to be more active and mobile. Oxygen can improve exercise capacity. People who use oxygen can travel with advanced planning.

Myth: If a little oxygen is good, more oxygen is better.
Truth: Oxygen is a drug. Use it as prescribed or instructed. Like any drug, too much or too little can be harmful.

Myth: Shortness of breath means a lack of oxygen, so if you become short of breath you should use oxygen.
Truth: Shortness of breath is not always associated with a lack of oxygen. If low oxygen is not the cause, taking oxygen will not help. (Your doctor can test to see if you need oxygen by taking an arterial blood sample).

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